Officials of the FBI, U.S. Navy, Secret Service and National Transportation Safety Board adamantly denied Friday a claim by former journalist Pierre Salinger that a Navy missile accidentally destroyed TWA Flight 800 and its 230 passengers.
Stressing that the so-called “friendly fire” theory had been explored thoroughly after the July 17 crash, James Kallstrom, FBI associate director leading the criminal investigation, said: “We have double-checked and triple-checked … to assure ourselves, beyond a reasonable doubt, that no military component or asset not only was not involved, but was not in a position to be involved.”
An obviously angry Jim Hall, chairman of the NTSB, called Salinger’s allegation “unfortunate and irresponsible” and blamed it for causing confusion among the public and “consternation and pain” among the families of crash victims.
Hall and Kallstrom also vehemently denied Salinger’s suggestion that there was a government plan to cover up the cause of the crash until after the presidential election.
Salinger appeared to backpedal Friday, telling reporters in France that the document, dated Aug. 22, was posted on the Internet in September. He showed journalists two crumpled pages that he said was the document, but refused to let them examine it.
Because of Salinger’s former positions as press secretary to President John F. Kennedy and an ABC News correspondent, Kallstrom said the FBI and other agencies considered it important to issue clear, firm denials.
“Let me make it abundantly clear: We are withholding no information from the American people about this incident,” said Hall, at a joint news conference at the FBI’s Manhattan headquarters.
Salinger, 71, reportedly made his remarks Thursday at a convention of international airline executives in Cannes, France.
“The truth must come out,” Salinger told the executives. He claimed a French intelligence operative had given him a document that showed that a Navy ship conducting missile tests accidentally downed the jetliner.
Salinger said he had had the document for five weeks but “some very important people” he had shown it to had advised him not to reveal it until after Nov. 5 because officials “probably won’t tell the truth until after the American election.”
Kallstrom said the FBI had neither spoken to Salinger nor seen the document, though it was eager to do so. Based on press accounts, however, he said Salinger’s remarks seemed to echo “the same type of information that is in documents on the Internet.”
Conspiracy theories and alleged documents supporting them have abounded on the Internet since the crash. Kallstrom dismissed them as “total, unadulterated nonsense.”
Kallstrom said the three theories of what caused the center fuel tank of the Paris-bound jumbo jet to explode remain the same: a bomb, a missile or a mechanical malfunction.
“As we stand here today, we don’t know which one of those theories caused this tragedy,” he said.